Cleft Friends is a project of Smile Foundation.

 It is the only organisation in South Africa that offers support to parents from the perspective of a ‘lived experience’ rather than the expert view that we can get from the medical fraternity. 

We are parents who speak only from experience. We encourage new parents to celebrate, love and affirm their babies in every way possible. This is essential throughout the Cleft Journey.

We encourage parents to ask the medical personnel specific questions that has been proven to help alleviate anxiety and also provide clarity with regard to their child’s diagnosis. 


To improve lives by empowering and educating all South Africans affected by cleft lip and palate.

How we came to be

The day Heléna and Matthew’s son was born and diagnosed with a cleft palate changed their lives. They had no idea what a cleft lip and palate was. As they progressed on the cleft journey, they realised this is common in most people who have children affected with the condition. Heléna was overwhelmed and it took time to process what the diagnosis meant. She was worried about the future of her son, Joel. Both parents had to grieve for the idea they had about their first child and they had to embrace the reality that involved their new born needing plastic surgery when he was 6 months old and having to feed him with a special needs bottle. They realised that other parents were experiencing similar emotions and together with Madge Blignaut, who was born with cleft lip and palate, co-founded a South African cleft lip and palate parent support group called Cleft Friends. Cleft Friends has helped more than 1,000 parents and children affected by cleft lip/palate.

Franche & Stefan

"We got so used to Olivia’s cleft lip and since her surgery we miss her wide open smile, even though we are so happy that it is all better." - Franche & Stefan, Gauteng

Melissa’s Story

I am Melissa Pillay (27) from KNZ. I am a mum to two cleft cuties Rodrick (6) & Melisha (2) . I found out I was pregnant on 12 May 2015. At 5 months I went for an ultrasound, I found out that I was having a baby boy and his due date was my husbands birthday. The...

Monique’s Story

"My cleftie turned ten last month! Since she was old enough to understand, I have spoken to her about her cleft journey. I recall her seeing a photo of herself pre-cleft repair op, before she was able to speak properly. She looked at the pic and said “Baba lip sore”....

Lana Story

Lana shows us that anything is possible. Lana was born in Gauteng with a bilateral cleft lip and palate and Goldenhar Syndrome in 2010. In 2020-2021 she did not dance due to two bone graft operations. In June 2022 after a recovery period of two and a half years, she...